There is no doubt that Ulven society is highly superstitious, paying homage to the Great Wolf and Mother Gaia in their day-to-day activities. Of the two, it would seem to an outsider that Gaia is the most strongly venerated; the priestesses (for they are always female, with rare exceptions) of the Ulven people are her Daughters, as well as the most apparent members of the religion. This comes from the nature of these gods; while the Mother Goddess guides her children, the Great Wolf is not called upon except in battle, and he is rarely venerated in the same ways as Gaia.
A priesthood of sorts exists as counterparts to the Daughters of Gaia, only their knowledge is far different. While the Daughters of Gaia have a deep connection with the land and nature, the Lore-Speakers have that connection with the history and stories of the Ulven people. While the Daughters guide, the Lore-Speakers challenge. Where the Daughters of Gaia shepherd those in this life, the Lore-Speakers make certain that none that have died are forgotten.
These figures wander from clan to clan and family to family, collecting stories to tell, songs to sing, and names to remember. Their sole duty is the preservation of this knowledge, whether through endless recitation to all who wish to hear, teaching it to other Ulven, or simply writing it down. At all times, however, the Great Wolf must hear these words that they preserve, so that those who fell might achieve safe passage through the forests of the next life.
To be considered as a potential Lore-Speaker, an Ulven must commit to never staying in one place for longer than it takes to learn the story of that place. While this has sometimes led to stationary Lore-Speakers, more often than not it leads to endless wandering. As part of this vow, no clan may ever turn away a Lore-Speaker, for they have given up everything for the Ulven people. Should one be turned away or forced out for no other reason than his vocation, it would be a sign that a pack had resigned its connection to the Ulven people. Thus far, no pack has done so.
While a pack cannot turn away a Lore-Speaker, they are not required to provide for them; all must possess a useful skill or trade to assist those who are around. Most have a trade; some survive solely through the telling of stories and singing of songs for their food and slumber.
A prospective Lore-Speaker must apprentice with a fully-accepted member of the Brotherhood before he is allowed into their ranks. During this time, they learn stories, help attend to their master’s needs, and learn the necessary skills of the Brotherhood. It is common for Lore-Speakers to teach their apprentices with humiliation, mockery, and practical jokes, that they may grow used to being outcasts in a community. It should be noted that they will also defend their apprentices to the death – many a legendary Ulven saga is purported to be recorded by an entire line of Lore-Speakers, each of them passing the story down to their apprentice when they were cut down in battle.
The most important rite of the Lore-Speaker is their final rite, which forever brands them as committed to this strange order; they must give up their name and deeds, letting it die as a secret within their heart. A Lore-Speaker renounces clan and pack, name and family, so that they may tell the story of the Ulven people without bias. While most Lore-Speakers take assumed names, this is not their true name, and so upon meeting the Great Wolf, they are all doomed, for he will not recognize the name of the Ulven standing before him and will devour them. One tradition states that Lore-speakers become a part of the Forest of the Great Wolf, but so far, no one has come back from the dead to confirm this.
The chosen name of a Lore-Speaker usually reflects some characteristic of themselves. Apprentices often take on the name of their master when they die, for they see themselves as the continuance of a grand tradition. A few Clans have their own traditions associated with the Lore-Speakers of the region – Stormjarl traditionally gives the speakers a sea-blue garment when they have passed through the region, and the Grimwards require that a Lore-Speaker spend their first night in the territory speaking the names of all those who died to a stand of trees.
While this position seems to be high status, most Lore-Speakers are tolerated for their skills, rather than the service they provide. It is unwise to draw too much attention from the Great Wolf excepting when your deeds are glorious, and so they are occasionally seen as bearers of ill omen. This is even more so in recent years; with the colonists arriving on Mardrun, news is more often ill than good. More often than not, a Lore-Speaker is hosted for anywhere from a few days to a week before they wander on.
An important role of a Lore-Speaker is the recitation of the deeds of the greatest of warriors. If an event is seen as significant to the Ulven people, then a Lore-Speaker is required to come after news of it spreads and compose a work to commemorate it.
It is not forbidden for Lore-Speakers to take mates, but it is uncommon due to their migratory nature and the secrets that must be kept from their mates. Some packs even reverse the normal courtship rituals for Lore-Speakers, while others believe it is the worst fate a child could have and outlaw it completely. It is nearly unheard of for a Lore-Speaker’s son to follow in their footsteps.
Every eleven years, the Lore-Speakers are rumored to converge on a secret location to share stories, spread the word of the Ulven people, and ensure that the knowledge of the Ulven is being preserved. This site is carefully hidden and well-defended, to prevent Mordok from stumbling on it. Were it to be found and the Brotherhood killed, it would destroy thousands of years of Ulven history and knowledge.
Lore and Stories:
This is a story told only on the longest night of the year, when the moon is full and the Great Wolf hunts the lands of Mardrun.
The Night of the Longest Shadows
Listen, children of Gaia, wardens of the Great Wolf, for the story that I speak is an old one, never to be forgotten among all the clans. Every year it is told, and every year it is shaped by the brave warriors who have passed into The Journey.
When the spears of the Great Wolf perch upon the eaves and the sun dies, the story must be told, for on that long night, the distance between worlds is shorter. Our forests are linked with all forests, and so it is said that those who still wander their Journey may pass through on this night. Even still, the Great Wolf may find you on this night, as he roams this unfamiliar land and seeks out those who would evade him for fear he does not know their name.
We do not leave the homes at this time, for if we did, the Great Wolf might find us and devour us before we have passed into the next life, for if you cannot tell him how you were sent into the next life, he will assume you a coward and devour you, no matter the strength of your deeds. The doors are barred, the windows shuttered, and the whole of our homes lit so that we might wait out the night.
How, then, may we pass the time? Many great deeds have taken this year since the Great Wolf wandered our forests, and so we must let him hear these tales, that he might listen at our barred doors and learn of those who have passed into their Journey. This tale shall open the night, for it is the story of this night that is passed from knowing man to knowing man for generations.
In the time when our ancestors were still young and our families still scattered, before we had the knowledge of words and the understanding of life, we did not understand the importance of this night. Our warriors were buried beneath the earth, choking and trapped from the Journey, and we did not live properly, trapped as we were in this world.
A great chief arose. Fast was his blade, sharp was his mind, and brave was his heart. He had walked the path of the warrior for his life, and when he took for him a mate, he was confident that his legacy would be eternal. His mate laughed quietly even as she bore him sons and daughters, for he was prideful and believed himself to be the Chosen of the Great Wolf.
In those ages, this night was not understood, and many great warriors died before their time, never to find the paths to the next life. This great chief was not afraid of the night, and spoke that he would find the beast who stole brave warriors on their path. He placed upon himself a coat of plates, hung his blade at his side, and placed his shield on his back, girded to set out and find this foe.
As he wandered the roads, he came upon a warrior, wary and with blade drawn against the night sky. Drawing his blade, he cried out a challenge, seeing him to be an honorable warrior. They met in furious combat, and it was not long before the strange warrior lay bleeding on the ground. The chief read the patterns on the warrior’s shield and found them to be those of a warrior he remembered from a battle not long ago. This warrior had been slain by his hand. He knew then of the sorcery of this time, and grew wary.
It is here that I will end the first part of this tale, for we also wander the night. Let us eat, regain our strength, and think of those we must remember from this past year. Like the chief, we know there is something strange afoot, but we are not yet wise to its nature. We may yet behave incautiously, for the night has not truly fallen.
– – – – – – –
My brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and companions – let us return to this tale. We have eaten well, and drunk better. We have thought of this night as it falls, drawn deeper and deeper into the darkness that no being might know, so that we might know the truth of our people. Let us rejoin the chief, so that we, too, might wander the paths which cross our world.
He wandered as the night grew longer, traversing paths and crossroads, making no effort to hide his trail, for he feared no one and believed himself to be the equal of any foe. When at last the peak of night came, he found himself at a crossroads. He stood in the center, bellowing a challenge to the night, a wild howl.
A howl answers him, greater and louder than any he has ever heard. A dark shape emerges from the forests to the edge of the crossroads. It is the Great Wolf, sleek of body, proud of purpose. He is the father of our people, the one who knows all, who walks our forests, who brings us prey, and who grants us the spirit of the Warrior. As Gaia is mother to us, kind and merciful, so he is stern and strengthening, for without his guidance.
At this time, the Great Wolf was known, but had never spoken with his people. We knew him to be the father, but we did not know how he guided us. The Chief, proud as he was, believed himself to have been chosen by the Great Wolf and so spoke to him. He spoke thusly, “Great Wolf, I am a great chief. Grand are my deeds, and great are the challenges I have faced. I stand before you on this night a loyal son, seeking to find the beast which hunts my people on this night.”
The Great Wolf replied to him, his words seared in his mind. “What is your name, Chief? And who sent you out in this night?”
The Chief spoke of his great deeds, telling the Great Wolf all that he knew, but since he was not yet dead, the magic of that night forbade him from speaking his name to the Great Wolf. He talked of his deeds for a long while, that the Great Wolf might know who he was by reputation alone. At the end of each deed, the Great Wolf asked him again his name, and again the Chief found himself unable to speak it.
At last, the Great Wolf grew impatient with this Chief’s deeds, asking him, “My son, why do you defy me? I wish to know one thing, that I might tell if I recognize you, but you tell me nothing but stories. I shall devour you if you cannot tell me your name, for only a coward refuses the use of his name.”
It is here that again the story must pause, for our next tale may only occur at the close of the night, when all are tired and the new day might come. Much like the Chief, we must now speak the deeds of our great companions, that they may know the stories and tales. If these deeds are false, we may judge them only on their craft as storytellers, but if they are true, the Great Wolf’s ears will ring with their names. I urge caution, however! Utter not the names of the dead, lest the Great Wolf think they hide in this home!
– – – – –
Let us return to the story, for the night has drawn to a close. The dawn threatens, and so the sun is reborn. Our chief is in peril, as are all who may have left this night. The danger will soon pass, however, as we are nearing the end of this tale.
The Chief, for the first time in his life, felt fear. He knew of the Great Wolf, but he did not know that He was the beast who terrorized his people, killing them on this long night. With all his mighty deeds, he found himself unable to tell the Great Wolf his name, and so he knew he was cursed to die there, forgotten and nameless. At this thought, he drew his sword, slung his shield onto his arm, and howled. The Great Wolf charged.
The moment the two met, there was a sharp cry. His mate, the Daughter of Gaia, spoke for him. She said, “Great Wolf, you know not what you do, for this warrior yet lives. Gaia has told me of your hunt, and it is misplaced here. His name is forgotten, for the knowledge he brings will stand the test of time, and he was sent by my hand, for is it not the mother who sends the child into the world, the wife who brings her husband from the battlefield?”
The Great Wolf paused in his assault, for though the Chief was strong, he would surely die beneath his claws. He turned to the Chief and spoke to him. He spoke thus, “Great Chief, your mate speaks truth. Foolishness removes the greatest of deeds, and even your name will be forgotten for this foolishness. Know this; that on this night, I hunt your lands and follow those who believe themselves able to sneak out to the lands of the living once again. Leave not your homes, but remember those who died, that I might guide those who have wandered here mistakenly back to the true path of their Journey.”
With those words, the Great Wolf howled, and the sun rose again. As the dawn began, the Chief remembered his name and was ashamed. His mate, the wisest of women, returned home with him again, and they told their people of this story. The truth of it was recognized, and though the names of those two are forgotten, their deed lives on, and it is certain they passed by the Great Wolf together on their journey.
So too has this night finished. I am just the storyteller, who has given up his true name that he might tell these tales to the rest of his people without endangering himself. Here, in the last hour, I may tell a single brave warrior a single truth. Bring forth your candidate!
(A candidate is brought forth and told a single important truth)
The truth is revealed! Warrior, keep it secret until you know the time is right, for this knowledge is not for those who fear the Great Wolf’s teeth.
The night is closed. Let us greet the sun when it rises tomorrow, and send the final remains of our vanquished warriors to the sky. Finally, speak the names of all those who have died, that we might hear their names once again!